High cholesterol in children
Adults are not the only people affected by high cholesterol. Children also may have high levels of cholesterol, which can cause health problems when the child gets older. Too much cholesterol leads to the build-up of plaque on the walls of the arteries, which supply blood to the heart and other organs. Plaque can narrow the arteries and block the blood flow to the heart, causing heart problems. Cholesterol also is related to other health problems including stroke.
What causes high cholesterol in children?
Cholesterol levels in children are linked to three risk factors:
In most cases children with high cholesterol have a parent who also has elevated cholesterol.
How is high cholesterol diagnosed in children?
Doctors can check cholesterol in school-age children with a simple blood test. Conducting such a test is especially important if there is a strong family history of heart disease or if a parent of the child has high cholesterol. The blood test results will reveal whether a child's cholesterol is too high.
How is high cholesterol in children treated?
The best way to treat cholesterol in children is with a diet and exercise programme that involves the entire family. Here are some tips.
- Eat foods low in total fat, saturated fat, trans-fatty acids and cholesterol. The amount of total fat a child consumes should be 35% or less of daily total calories. This suggestion does not apply to children under the age of two. Saturated fat should be kept to less than 11% of daily total calories while trans-fatty acids should be avoided as much as possible.
Select a variety of foods so your child can get all the nutrients he or she needs.
- Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise, such as cycling, running, walking and swimming, can help raise HDL levels (the ‘good’ cholesterol) and lower your child's risk of cardiovascular disease.
Here are some examples of healthy foods to give your child.
- For breakfast: Fruit, cereal, oatmeal and yoghurt are among the good choices for breakfast foods. Use semi-skimmed milk rather than full-fat milk (after 2 years old and until the age of 5 years old when skimmed milk can be introduced, or as recommended by your doctor).
- For lunch and dinner: Bake or grill foods instead of frying them. Use wholegrain breads and rolls to make a healthier sandwich. Give your child wholegrain crackers with soups and stew. Prepare pasta, beans, rice, fish, skinless poultry or other dishes. Always serve fresh fruits (with the skin) with meals.
- For snacks: Fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals make great snacks for children. Children should avoid fizzy drinks and squashes.
The initial treatment for kids at risk of heart disease is weight management and improved diet, but some children as young as eight years old will need to start drug treatment.
A child's cholesterol level should be retested and monitored after dietary changes and/or medication.